WHILE it’s been a difficult year for some, it’s been anything but for former Cork City player Jake O’Brien.
The Youghal native made his first-team debut for City before joining English Premier League side Crystal Palace on loan in February.
O’Brien is back home in East Cork after a successful time with the Eagles in which he captained the U23 side to promotion from the Premier League 2 Division 2. He feels moving to London has helped him come out of his shell and develop his character.
“I come from Youghal — everyone knows each other,” said O’Brien.
“It’s a small town, everyone knows everyone. But, even walking through town, everyone is just asking about everything happening. It’s huge.
I think my character has grown. Obviously, living over by yourself, you’re kind of forced to come out of your shell because you talk to new people every day, and that kind of helps as well with your character.
“I think I’ve improved. I used to be shy growing up, but I’ve definitely come out of my shell, to be fair.”
Having only joined the club in February, O’Brien was honoured — and a bit surprised — to be given the captain’s armband.
It was the club’s first season competing in Premier League 2 Division 2, and O’Brien feels having fans back in the ground helped the team help achieve promotion.
“Being named captain — that was an honour,” he said.
“Firstly, I was not expecting it to happen that quick. But I suppose as a defender, the one thing I kind of picked up on is that a lot of it is communication, and being a leader at the back.
“So I was an honour to lead the team out especially in the final [against Sunderland]. There was a big crowd there [Selhurst Park] to watch.
“The amount of work we put in as a team, promotion was our aim — and we achieved it.
“From when I came, that’s what the goal was, to get the promotion. It didn’t all go to plan, as in, because we lost a few games.
“We went on a bad run and then we came back. We got to the play-offs. It was about reaching the play-offs first, and then from there, we just went on a four-game winning run.
“It was a huge difference. I think having the crowds back played a big part in us winning promotion, and I don’t think we would have done it without them.
“There was a spell in the game, we were going through a grey area where we were kind of sitting back defending, the fans boosted the team, and they pushed us on and that’s what got us the goal to win both games.
“It was amazing. There were around 3,000 fans in at the final watching us. It made the celebrations that bit more special. The celebrations were unreal.”
There were always signs during his time at City that O’Brien was destined to play at the highest level.
The 20-year-old stood out in his few appearances for City before joining Palace, and now O’Brien is determined to grasp his opportunity with the Eagles. The defender feels that he has improved as a player during his brief time in London.
The experience of getting to train with, and learn from, players like Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, and Gary Cahill, to name a few, will only improve O’Brien. He is also grateful for the coaches, including former Liverpool and England manager Roy Hodgson, that have taken the time to help O’Brien settle into the club and improve him as a player.
Well, I think because of the professionalism at the club, when you are training every day, the coaches and the staff that are at the club, you are obviously going to improve.
“When I think of my game, I think I’ve matured even more as a player as well, because, it kind of happens in a way, being over [moving from Cork to London].
“I’ve trained with the first team as well, and gained experience. It’s a huge step up.
“I’ve definitely improved on my game a lot since coming over. And I want to keep improving.
“I’ve been over [with the first team], a few times. It was a great experience training with such high profile players.
“Especially when you go up and down from the 23s. When you go up to the first team and come down, you kind of feel a bit more experienced. It helps my game as well.
“It definitely improved my confidence levels.
“There are always aspects to be improved and worked on. But I think when you are constantly training with the first team, you just automatically improve.
“That’s the aim, to get into the first team. All of the coaches have been a huge help, but obviously Stephen [Rice, Palace U23 coach], because he’s Irish, and we always have chats and that.
“But Shaun Derry [Palace U23 manager] has been huge as well. He would pull me aside after training and tell me what to work on.
“Even when I train with the first team, I had a few chats with [former Palace manager] Roy [Hodgson].
“He was just trying to get to know me, which is great, because he didn’t have to because I was only coming over to train for a day. Things like that just boost your confidence.”
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